India tasted their first defeat in the ongoing ICC World Test Championship, and a proper hammering at that against New Zealand in the first Test of the two-match series at Wellington. Virat Kohli’s side were blown away inside three-and-a-half days without giving the home side much of a fight.
The Test wasn’t entirely out of reach for India at the end of third day. Although the Kiwis were on top, the Indian fans would have hoped that their batsmen put up some resistance and give some sort of a tricky chase for the home side in the last innings.
But New Zealands’ two most experienced fast bowlers, Tim Southee and Trent Boult had other ideas as they made early inroads on Day 4. Once Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari were dismissed before the second new ball was due, it was too much of a task for the lower order to offer resistance against the brand new cherry.
India were bowled out for 191 in their second innings, thereby leaving New Zealand with only nine runs to win the first Test. Let us go through the reasons as to what went wrong for the No.1 Test side.
#1 India’s inability to dismiss lower orders
At the outset, many would believe that India lost this Test because of their batsmen’s failure in both the innings. Yes, they failed but one of the key moments in this Test happened when India’s bowlers failed to clean up New Zealand’s first innings.
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The home side’s seventh wicket fell at the score of 225, and at that stage it looked like the lead would be around 100. Instead, New Zealand’s lower order feasted on some poor bowling and ended up with a 183-run lead which was going to be match winning nine times out of 10.
The inability to finish the innings has been the Achilles' heel for India over a number of years and it was once again the case that lead to a huge defeat at Wellington.
#2 Virat Kohli’s twin failures
A lot was expected out of Virat Kohli’s bat in this Test, especially after the Indian skipper's quiet outings in white-ball cricket in the tour. But New Zealand found a way to keep Kohli under check and it was his failures with the bat that went a long way in India struggling to put runs on the board.
Kohli’s presence in the middle is key for India for a couple of reasons. One, he is India’s best player and has the penchant to score big hundreds. The other reason is he is the kind of player who can take on the opposition bowling. New Zealand bowlers are very patient and stick to their plans for a long period unlike other bowling units in international cricket right now. If one sits back and wait for their bowlers to make mistakes, it’s playing perfectly into their hands and that’s where India lacked the intent in both the innings with the bat.
It was very strange to see Kohli looking unsettled at the crease even during his short stay. While he nicked Kyle Jamieson to slip off a very wide delivery outside off stump in the first innings, Boult got the right hander with a bouncer second time around. So, New Zealand have worked a plan in not giving the Indian captain boundaries early on in his innings and that has worked well for the hosts so far.
#3 Jasprit Bumrah looked less threatening
Just like India’s best batsman is struggling to get going in New Zealand, their premier fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah too is unable to find his rhythm so far. The right-arm quick went wicketless in the ODI series and finished the first Test with 1-88 and an economy of around 3.5, which is way too high for Test match cricket.
Since Bumrah has returned from fitness, he has looked less threatening, and all of a sudden batsmen have found ways to counter him in all formats. While Ishant Sharma and to a certain extent Mohammad Shami were getting to seam the ball at Wellington, Bumrah couldn’t quite nip the ball off the surface. Even the lower order batsmen were finding it quite comfortable to negotiate the big threat.
Bumrah along with Kohli have been instrumental in India’s success across all formats in recent times and when both fail to deliver, it becomes very difficult to win in conditions that are tailor-made for the hosts.
India would hope that their two key men fire on all cylinders come February 29 in order to end the tour on a high.